West Washington Board President Brian Farmer read a notice at the beginning of this evening’s special session that Wade Tomlinson was to be referred to as “Coach” and that comments were to be limited to five minutes.
Neither rule was followed much as a procession of about 12 players – past and present – spoke to the endearing qualities of Tomlinson and his coaching abilities. Only one parent spoke out against Tomlinson — Doug Stroud who said he was jealous that his daughter, Taylor, a Junior at West Washington, didn’t have as close a relationship as most of girls in attendance tonight spoke about.
It’s not often that a coach or teacher gets the chance to hear the impact he or she has made in the lives of their students or players.
But tonight during a special meeting of the West Washington School Board, Lady Senator basketball coach Tomlinson and the rest of the packed board room had the chance to hear comments from current and former basketball players from West Washington and Salem.
One of the things that has always stood out among West Washington athletics and academics is the great support they show each other.
That support system seemed to let down during the May 11 board meeting in which the board failed to renew Tomlinson’s contract as WW Girls High School Basketball coach with a 2-5 vote.
Tomlinson, who is in his 6th year as head varsity coach is 46-60 overall and 160-220 overall after 19 years.
The board acted, Tomlinson said, without sharing any negative comments regarding his coaching abilities or requests to make improvements in his program. In fact, at the May meeting, Senator Head Varsity Boys Football coach and high school athletic director Phillip Bowsman recommended the board renew Tomlinson’s contract.
Board member Matt Deaton made a motion to accept Bowsman’s recommendation. The motion was seconded by Farmer and failed after Tim Barksdale, Bill VanCleave, John Hughes, Joe Walker and Doug Brown opposed the vote.
After hearing comments from about a dozen players and parents Tuesday night, the board voted along similar lines to table any action until their June 15 meeting.
Again, Deaton made a motion to hire Tomlinson as the head varsity girls coach. Farmer seconded the motion. However, no other board member would speak.
Brown then made a motion to table the action until the next meeting, giving the board more time to study the information it received this evening.
That motion brought a vote of 5-2, with Deaton voting against the motion and VanCleave abstaining.
The board also approved several claims and accepted the resignation of Judy Givens and Paige Hewitt, the high school band instructor.
SUPPORT FOR TOMLINSON
“It’s pretty humbling — all the comments from former players. I mean, wow!,” said Tomlinson after the meeting, giving an interview much as he would do after a game.
Coach, as the board asked the public to refer to him, was not seemingly upset that the board drew out his future for another two weeks, but was ecstatic at the realization of connections he had made with former players.
“Just forget about all the success we’ve had at all the different levels — elementary, middle school and high school,” Tomlinson said. “I wanted to tell them – ‘You guys were really paying attention when you were rolling your eyes!’ I wasn’t just talking to the walls! They really were listening!! That was just very humbling. I know coach (Don Meyer) had a saying. ‘We want to be the type of program that when we lose, we win.’ The way this community has always supported us and the things that were said. There’s no doubt in my mind — no matter what the board says – we’re leaving hear a winning team.”
Tomlinson also had the support of his family at the meeting — his wife, Jennifer, her dad, Burl Jean, and sister and brother in law, Joe and Allison Ezzell.
Jean spoke to the board and said that all employees deserve a chance to improve. “How can someone improve when you haven’t taken the time to tell him that he’s done anything wrong. He at least deserves that.” Jean pointed out that he works in Salem, yet remains a property tax payer in the school district. “I’ve been around here awhile,” he said, referring to helping his grandfather construct the administration building. “I was happy to see my son-in-law become a coach here. Two of my grandchildren go to school here. I was a graduate of Campbellsburg High School and it’s nice to be involved in the school system.”
The board met for about 90 minutes in executive session while the public gathered in the halls of the Administration building, towards the end of Mt. Tabor Road.
During that session, Tomlinson said there really was no discussion about his abilities as a coach. Little was mentioned about his resume of having played at David Lipscomb University in Tennessee where Meyer was the winningest basketball coach in any division until he was surpassed by Duke University coach Mike Krzyzewski in November 2011.
“I just had to state my case on why I wanted to be hired. Not a lot was discussed,” he said. Tomlinson said he has never been given a reason why his contract was not renewed.
Instead he is amazed at the support he was shown. “I had my point guard who was a freshman from 17 years ago here tonight,” said Tomlinson. “Dr. Angie Nichols Buchanan came and spoke. What a statement.”
Girls gathered to pray before the meeting, led by former Lady Senator Taylor Durbin, who graduated last year and is a freshman at college.
“Honestly I’ve been raised in church my whole life. God’s is a huge part of my life,” said Durbin. “What inspired me to be here was Wade. He’s not just a basketball coach. He turned our girls program around. He attaches a life lesson to every single game and practice we have. He really prepares us for life. His faith strengthened mine. He was with me through one of the most trying times of my life.”
Durbin said she played on the team for two years – her freshman and sophomore years — then tried to quit the team.
“I wasn’t an amazing player,” she admitted. “I decided I didn’t want to play. Wade pulled me aside and showed me that I had more value on the team than just my skill. He showed me that my encouragement was a glue for the team. I managed my junior and senior year, so to me, he was my coach for all four years.”
Even North Harrison basketball coach and attorney Marcus Burgher showed up to speak about Tomlinson.
“I grew up in Harrison County,” said Burgher. “I know the decisions you all make are tough. I’m not here to question your decision. I’m here to share a story with you. Until February 2015, I’m 100 percent sure that your coach had no idea who I was. He didn’t seek me out because he wanted my daughter to play for him. In fact, a year ago, I began seeking him out.”
Burgher outlined how he sought AAU travel teams for his daughter to play on beginning a year ago. He attended games and looked at schools in Louisville and programs all around the region. Comments from coaches kept pointing him back to Tomlinson, which led Burgher to do research and learn that he was connected to Don Meyer.
Burgher passed out a chapter to each board member from Meyer’s book “How Lucky You Can Be: The Story of Coach Don Meyer,” written by ESPN baseball analyst Buster Olney.
“This whole chapter is devoted to your coach. Do you know how lucky you are to have a coach here like that?” asked Burgher. “I wanted the best coach for my daughter. It was Tomlinson.”
In fact, Tomlinson will be portrayed in an upcoming film about Meyer’s 38 years of coaching called MY MANY SONS.
Todd Armstrong spoke and said he urged the board to listen to both sides of the issue.
“My daughter played for coach for awhile. She chose not to continue. Not because of coach. He was tough on her and honest with her about her skills. She would not always give her most. She knew that. Sometimes it’s hard for kids to hear the truth about their athletic ability. We all want to hear that we’re NBA stars,” said Armstrong.
He also talked about Tomlinson’s character. “You won’t find a man with more knowledge of the game. It impressed me … the character of the man. He’s been through more hardship than any one of us. That’s when the true character of a man shows. He’s got more character than anyone here,” Armstrong pointed out.
QUESTIONS ABOUT TOMLINSON
The only person who spoke against Tomlinson was parent Doug Stroud and in actuality he said he was neither speaking for or against Tomlinson.
He said he had attended his first school board meeting at the May 11 session and thanked the board for their work.
“We came to the last meeting because we cared,” said Stroud. “Cared about the kids, cared about the program — whether that’s with the current coach or someone who comes in.”
Stroud said although his family did not speak at the last meeting, he feels some in the community blame him and his family for what happened.
“But yet my family was blamed…for getting this initiated. My daughter has received Facebook messages over this,” Stroud pointed out.
“I am jealous,” he added. “Not about playing time. My daughter (Junior Lady Senator Taylor Stroud) never had a relationship with coach that he had with other players. When she walked in awhile ago she got the most sincere hello from him that she’s ever received. And it’s because he’s in trouble,” said Stroud.
“We’re really not for or against but have issues that would like to have addressed,” Stroud said. “We’ll support the board’s decision because we care about the program.”
Stroud said he was at issue with the the treatment and inconsistency of the rules among players. He felt that some players were treated differently. “We moved over here for a reason but that slowly went away,” he said. “It’s my opinion that my daughter’s treatment has been inconsistent.”
Stroud said Tomlinson has told the team on numerous nights — “It’s ok if we don’t win” — they are told they are going to lose ball games without any reason. I disagree with that.”
Stroud also said his daughter had asked Tomlinson for encouragement and for guidance on becoming a better ball player. Stroud said Tomlinson refused to provide the guildance and allegedly became annoyed when asked.
“My daughter has asked what her roll is. She’s went to the coach and when she asked….he couldn’t answer. He was appalled she asked a question. She just asked for help. I’m not looking for all star status….more playhing time….just consistent treatment,” said Stroud, pointing to the half dozen girls who spoke tenderly about Tomlinson and his caring spirit.
“My daughter was one of 5 girls in Indiana to be selected for Team USA trials in Colorado last summer. It’s my time to brag….she was picked out of 148 in the nation,” said Stroud. “She went to her head coach and asked what she can do to prepare herself…he told her……that she was on her own. I’ll not forget that day. It hurts. She comes to practice an hour before anybody else….works her tail off….when she asks for help, it was not given.”